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[infowar.de] WT 25.03.03: U.S. Works To Win Over Foreign Media
March 25, 2003
U.S. Works To Win Over Foreign Media
By Paul Martin, The Washington Times
CAMP AS SALIYA, Qatar Foreign television and print reporters are being
wooed by the Americans at the media center here even if, or especially if,
they come from countries opposed to the war.
For allied commander Gen. Tommy Franks' media strategist, the more hostile
the reporters' country or network is, the more important it is to keep
feeding the appetite for information.
"From the beginning, we decided to make special accommodation for the
foreign media," said Jim Wilkinson, the director of strategic
communications and formerly President Bush's deputy communications
director. "For example, we deliberately encourage the Arab media to ask
The idea of letting critics have their opportunity is a novel approach
among the typically straight-laced military.
New thinking has permeated the entire war effort, which has introduced the
world to "effects-based warfare," and it seems the psychological
operations, or "psy-ops," specialists direct their efforts not only at the
enemy but also at the media.
Mr. Wilkinson, who in his previous job was involved in designing
message-of-the-day backdrops for Mr. Bush's speaking events to sharpen his
leadership image, says restricting foreign or hostile media would have been
"This will be the most covered war in history," Mr. Wilkinson told The
Washington Times in an interview. "There is no longer a domestic U.S. news
cycle. It's 24 hours, and international reporters have a large effect on
media all across America. For example, if a big foreign network runs a
story, it will be in America very soon."
Mr. Wilkinson said he is aware that some foreign journalists may be seeking
out negative angles, but that doesn't lead to a restrictive backlash.
"When you start excluding journalists, you start losing," he said. "War is
a frightening activity for all people and easily misunderstood, so the more
info you can discuss with as many reporters as possible, the more it helps
In any case, he said, coverage by foreign media these days also affects
what events the U.S. media covers and how they report them.
This approach appears to have taken some of the wind out of critics' sails,
said Luc Hermann, a documentary filmmaker who also is doing live shots from
here for French satellite channel Canal Plus.
He is making a documentary for screening in France next month on how the
military is dealing with the media.
"To tell the truth, I never expected the American forces would be as
responsive as they have been to foreign non-coalition journalists. I
believe the spin doctors have done a very smart job, to be talking to those
of us who come from countries opposing the war," Mr. Hermann said.
He said that he often looked for angles that criticized the war effort.
For example, Mr. Hermann said he reported to his French viewers that the
allies had failed to find weapons of mass destruction, had understated
civilian casualties and damage, and had been fuzzy on details of military
reverses. But he also said he would have been harsher if he had been
Not all foreign journalists are entirely happy with the media service so
far. They were livid for days as were almost all journalists that the
information flow from Central Command was minimal and briefings nonexistent
for the first 72 hours of the conflict.
Starved of news, the journalists were reduced to interviewing one another
as when a gaggle of cameramen pounced on a reporter returning from a
briefing for Australians-only given on Day 2 by the Australian commander.
They demanded not only to film the reporter telling them what the commander
had said, but also asked him to confirm that the Americans had pressured
the Australians to restrict the briefing. It was a nice angle but untrue.
British officials tend to be more willing to part with information and
analysis, making them journalists' favorites. The Australians are seen as
the least cooperative.
"I don't care what the rest of the world's media thinks or wants," said one
Australian media officer. "I care what gets shown or read back home."
When a bang was heard during Day 3, journalists grabbed cameras and
notebooks, and rushed outside. They saw a plume of smoke in the distance,
beyond the camp perimeter, and reports went out worldwide of an apparent
terrorist attack on the base.
The media chief told reporters within half an hour that the smoke had come
from a car that was being demolished in a controlled explosion at an
industrial plant nearby. End of story?
"What kind of car?" persisted an earnest reporter.
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